In Loudoun, a tranquil community centered around the farm

December 13, 2013

A couple dozen red-feathered chickens is not typical publicity for a luxury home. Nor are goats or farmland or bocce courts or a lifestyle director.

But these are the amenities at Willowsford, a 4,000-acre community in central Loudoun County, 40 miles west of Washington. Created from agricultural land, the development is designed to promote an active lifestyle.

“We are serious about healthy living, healthy eating and communing with your neighbors,” said Brian J. Cullen, Willowsford’s developer. “We’re promoting a different kind of suburban existence.”

Two thousand acres will remain open space maintained by the Willowsford Conservancy, a nonprofit organization created to serve as the land’s steward.

Unique designs: Willowsford will eventually comprise 2,100 single-family houses on lots from less than one-quarter acre to two acres. One hundred and thirty families live in the community; 230 lots have been sold and are under construction.

The single-family houses are large and consist of four to six bedrooms. Bathrooms offer spacious showers and soaking tubs. Gourmet kitchens are designed with large islands, abundant countertop space and oversized pantries. Professional-grade appliances by Wolf/Subzero and GE Monogram are included. Laundry rooms are ample and located on the second floor away from busy areas in the house. Flexible spaces allow residents to customize use for study, office, library, guests or lounging.

“It’s really a great community and I can’t wait to see it fill up,” said Liz Wavering, a one-year resident and parent of six children ages five months to 11 years. “I look forward to growing old here.”

Construction guidelines require builders to design homes unique to Willowsford. Vinyl siding is not permitted. Roofs must have at least architectural-grade shingles. Interiors feature open floor plans, ceilings as high as 10 feet and large windows.

“We push builders off their comfort zones by asking for certain criteria,” said Cullen, such as minimum six-foot-wide porches. “We approve color schemes and include a non-monotony clause in contracts to try and break the monotony as you go down the street.”

Farm-to-table: Bull Run Mountain hovers over a tranquil scene of fallow agricultural land, hedgerows and grasses. Much of Willowsford’s property was commercially farmed with corn, soybeans and winter wheat.

“We fit our homes into the old agricultural pockets and kept the tree lines,” said Cullen, “because tree borders protect the forest and are pleasing to the eye.”

When trees had to be downed a mill operator was brought in to cut, trim and salvage the wood so it could be used in construction.

The farm harvests kale, mushrooms, scallions, beets, onions, melons, squash, cabbage, broccoli and potatoes. “This is a very different concept because people literally walk or bike to the farm,” said Cullen. “The farm is the central amenity here.” It’s 17 acres and will be 250.

“It’s what sold us,” said Wavering, “and we needed our life to calm down.”

Mike Snow, head of farm operations, wants to bring the community into the garden. He organizes neighbor gatherings to clean up, clip herbs and pick berries. “It’s a volunteer get-together and social event.” Eventually, he’ll add potlucks and field dinners.

“My kids loved the Happy Gardening Hour this summer,” said Wavering. “They learned how to deadhead, what bugs are good and bad and how to find monarch butterfly eggs.”

Community Supported Agriculture membership is available for $700 a year, and a farm stand was open until late November.

“The CSA baskets are so exciting,” said Wavering. “We get vegetables we never heard of, like kohlrabi, and the culinary director puts in recipes.”

The farm is linked to teaching and demonstration kitchens in the two community centers with activities including cooking classes for adults and children; chef demonstrations; wine, beer and spirit tastings and pairing classes; and pop-up restaurants.

Swimming and hiking are popular: “The pool is fabulous,” said Wavering, “it feels like you’re at a resort.” Surrounding the pool is a lawn and a seven-acre, stocked lake.

“We want residents to feel comfortable hanging out in the community buildings like they would in a nice hotel lobby,” said Cullen. Couches invite sprawling. There’s a gym, a room for book club meetings and an outdoor patio kitchen.

Much of the open space is remote. “If I dropped you back there you’d think it’s wilderness,” said Cullen. Seventeen miles of trails are in place; 45 more miles will be added.

“I was immediately impressed by the trails,” said Bill Meister, who is retired and moved there with his wife in August. “I’m a former marathon runner and like to bike, hike and walk.”

Transit: Ashburn, Aldie and Brambleton, the closest towns for shopping, are five minutes by car. Leesburg is 15 minutes away, Dulles is 15 to 20 minutes, Reston Town Center is 25 minutes and Tysons Corner is 20 to 30 minutes. Loudoun County Transport offers one-hour bus service downtown from Stone Ridge Shopping Center in Aldie.

Schools: Buffalo Trail and Creighton Corner Elementary; Stone Bill and Mercer Middle; John Champe High.

Audrey Hoffer is a freelance writer.

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